Garden of the Gods and downtown Colorado Springs will be the focal points when professional road cycling returns to the state in August.
The inaugural Colorado Classic, a four-day men's stage race, kicks off Aug. 10 with a six-lap route covering 93.5 miles in the Springs, organizers announced Wednesday. Stage 1 of a two-day women's race is the same day and includes two laps on the same circuit.
The route begins and ends at the intersection of Pikes Peak Avenue and Tejon Street. From downtown, the course heads west on Colorado Avenue before entering Garden of the Gods via Ridge Road. Following a few grueling miles through the scenic park, riders return to Colorado Avenue on Mesa and Fontmore roads.
The downtown section of the route is flat and fast, going north on Cascade Avenue, east on Cache La Poudre Street and south on Tejon. The women's race, which measures 38.3 miles, concludes with three laps on this stretch.
Stage 2 for both races is set for Aug. 11 in Breckenridge, with the final two legs of the men's event coming Aug. 12-13 in Denver. Three of the four routes include multiple laps - a concerted effort by organizers to make a sport that can whiz by in mere seconds more worthwhile for spectators.
"Each course will give fans numerous opportunities in a single day to see the sport's top riders," said David Koff, CEO of RPM Events Group, the organization that owns the race. "And the start-finish areas are being built to be magnets of activity before, during and after each race. Our goal is to have (fans) come out for one experience and to stick around for many, many more."
The race comes on the heels of the USA Pro Challenge, a seven-day cycling event that rolled through the state each summer from 2011 to 2015 before multi-million-dollar losses led to its demise.
Decades earlier, in 1975, America's first international stage race debuted in Boulder and went on to become the most successful in U.S. history - thanks in large part to the financial backing of Coors Brewing Co. But when the title sponsor bowed out after the 1988 race, the Coors Classic folded.
Despite that unstable past, organizers of the Colorado Classic are steadfast in their belief that, with a fresh approach, pro cycling can find solid footing in the state. One of the key pieces to their plan is the Velorama Festival, a bike, music and craft event in Denver's RiNo Art District that will accompany the race.
The festival is Aug. 11-13 and will feature hundreds of vendors plus live music acts such as Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie and the Old 97's. A smaller festival also is planned for Stage 1 in Colorado Springs.
Both races are expected to attract quality riders from around the world. The men's event received a 2.HC race classification by the sport's governing body - one level below that of the three grand tours: Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España.
The lineup of men's teams competing in the Colorado Classic includes Cannondale Drapac, Trek-Segafredo and BMC Racing. The field is sure to be tested as the race boasts more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain over 313 miles.
The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network and live-streamed on NBC Sports Gold.